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What You Need To Know About The Ruling That Lets Huntington Beach Opt Out Of California's Sanctuary Law

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Huntington Beach sued the state earlier this year, arguing that as a charter city, it shouldn't have to comply with the so-called state sanctuary law. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC)
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A Orange County judge on Thursday sided with the city of Huntington Beach in its argument that it should not have to abide by California's so-called sanctuary law.

The city sued the state of California last April over the law known as S.B. 54, which restricts the cooperation of state and local police with immigration authorities. The law took effect last January.

What happens next, and what does this mean for other California cities? Here are a few answers:

WHAT DID THE JUDGE DECIDE?

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There is no written ruling yet, but what we do know is that Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall ruled in favor of Huntington Beach. The city had sued the state arguing that because it is a charter city, it should not be forced to comply with the sanctuary law.

Charter cities, of which there are 121 in California, have more control over municipal affairs than so-called general law cities. Huntington Beach claimed that the state law unconstitutionally interfered with its rights as a charter city.

The judge agreed that Huntington Beach does not need to comply with S.B. 54. And the judge said the city could stop complying immediately, meaning that local police would be allowed to go back to cooperating more fully with immigration officials.

S.B. 54 placed strict limits on this kind of cooperation, including the turning over of unauthorized immigrants arrested by local agencies to federal immigration officials. Under the state law, officials may only notify federal officials when releasing people convicted of certain violent or serious crimes - about 800 kinds of crimes in all, according to the law.

DOES THIS DECISION APPLY ONLY TO HUNTINGTON BEACH, OR TO OTHER CITIES?

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While Huntington Beach did not sue on behalf of other charter cities, the judge's decision could apply to them. A written order, once filed, will confirm if that's the case, but this is how Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates understood the judge's decision:

"He enjoined the state from enforcing S.B. 54, or the California Values Act, as an unconstitutional invasion of charter city authority. So it applies to Huntington Beach, it applies to other charter cities, and there are 121 charter cities in the state of California. "

The decision could have a wide-ranging effect on other charter cities if they decide they don't want to comply with S.B. 54, either. Some already have signaled their position: earlier this year, Los Alamitos, another charter city, passed an ordinance seeking to exempt itself from S.B. 54.

The city was then sued by the ACLU over its ordinance, and that case is headed to a hearing, probably later this fall.

Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said he was heartened by the Huntington Beach decision, but said there will be more clarity once there's a final written order.

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"I think a lot of people are curious. Does that mean our lawsuit goes away? Is it effective statewide?," Edgar said. "And I think until we get the judge's ruling from his perspective, I'm not sure we'll exactly know."

He said if the interpretation of Huntington Beach's Gates is correct, then it bodes well for Los Alamitos officials. Also, according to Edgar, the same judge -- Crandall -- is set to hear the Los Alamitos case.

HOW DID CALIFORNIA'S ATTORNEY GENERAL REACT?

The state attorney general's office could not provide much comment without the order. But Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that as the court prepares to issue a written order, "we will continue our work to uphold the laws of our state."

He added that "we will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state."

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In Los Angeles, itself a charter city but one that supports S.B. 54, Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that the city will continue to comply with state and federal law.

"Our local law enforcement will never function as an arm of federal immigration enforcement," he said.

SO WHAT'S NEXT? IS THE STATE EXPECTED TO APPEAL?

The judge indicated that this would be likely. Once there is a written order, the state could also ask for a stay on the ruling.

University of California, Irvine, political scientist Louis DeSipio said while charter cities that want to stop complying with S.B. 54 could try to do so, the situation might get complicated.

"I think they could assert that, yes," DeSipio said. "Someone could contest that because there isn't a formal ruling yet. What's more likely is the state is going to want a consistent and enforceable standard across the state."

Which, he said, will likely mean the state will seek a stay on the ruling so that cities would need to comply with the law while state appeals the ruling.


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